People of Asian descent beat on gongs, pounded drums and danced at the state Capitol Thursday as they called upon lawmakers to protect affirmative action and bilingual education.
About 1,000 people crammed into the rotunda and vowed to fight Initiative 200, a state measure that would roll back affirmative action programs.
They also asked lawmakers to support home health care for seniors, and then formed small groups to lobby legislators throughout the day.
The annual event has gained special significance since Gov. Gary Locke, the nation’s first ChineseAmerican governor, took office last year.
Before he addressed the crowd, Locke was all smiles as he shook hands with children of Cambodian descent from Tacoma who had just entertained with a dance performance.
Reiterating a central theme of his administration - that education is “the great equalizer” in American society - Locke said educating people about affirmative action would help them realize that it benefits everyone.
“The more people learn about these issues, the more likely they will do the right thing,” he said.
Locke and other elected officials of Asian descent thanked the crowd for taking direct political action.
“We have disagreements,” said Rep. Kip Tokuda, D-Seattle. “I come from the community and God knows we have disagreements, but on issues we agree on, we must be solid.”
Shaking her right fist above her head and yelling “power to the people,” Rep. Velma Veloria, D-Seattle, thanked the crowd for overcoming barriers presented by race and language. Asian-Americans have worked hard to maintain their traditions, she said.
“We have struggled long and hard to have our voices heard,” she said, adding, “Our duty is to make things easier for our children.”
Lynn Nguyen, 28, who said she represented the Vietnamese community of Pierce County, referred to both “the American dream and the dream of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.”
“We ask not for preferential treatment, but for our human and civil rights,” she said.